The 1985 Chicago Bears are regarded as one of the toughest teams in football history. But in the 2015 debut of HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, the world learns just how difficult things are for the group 20 years or more removed from football.
In an episode that airs on Tue., Jan. 20, at 10 p.m. ET, the show documents the struggles of various members of that championship team in recent years, particularly quarterback Jim McMahon, who told Gumbel if he'd "had a gun, I probably wouldn't be here."
"When I first heard about these guys killing themselves, I couldn't figure out how they could do that. But I was having those thoughts myself," McMahon said. "Feelings of inadequacy. And just like you're a dumbass. Once the pain starts getting that bad, you figure you'll take the only way out. If I would've had a gun, I probably wouldn't be here."
McMahon previously admitted he has contemplated suicide, but his struggles are still revelatory; McMahon told Gumbel sometimes he just lays in his room "for days ... weeks" and "stare[s] at the ceiling fan."
The quarterback also spoke openly about the number of "painkillers" he took, including "100 [Percocets] a month" at one point.
"There was always just bowls of pills sitting out," McMahon said. "You know, black ones, white ones, green ones, red ones, you know. I was on painkillers my last 11 years in the league. I was eating 100 Percs a month just to function."
Hall of Fame defensive lineman Richard Dent also painted a portrait of abundant postgame pain relievers.
"You passing out alcohol on the plane coming home, and you passing out meds too," Dent said.
Dent also spoke openly about the number of shots he saw McMahon receive to ease the pain when playing.
"I mean, they're sticking him everywhere," Dent said. "One game, I watched them stick him in the butt, and the arms, and the shoulder, and the hand."
Former Bears coach turned ESPN analyst Mike Ditka also spoke with HBO for the feature. Gumbel candidly asks him about "needles" and "pills" being "plentiful" in those days. Ditka doesn't deny the players' assertions.
"Well, they were plentiful. There's no question about it," Ditka says. "Now, who are you mad at? The team? Are you mad at the league? Are you mad at the sport? Are you mad at me? You're not going to cure them right now.
"It's only going to get worse. It ain't going to get better."